Saturday, 27 February 2010

So, What About the Lib Dems?

As numerous national polls are showing the gap between the Conservatives and Labour is well within Hung Parliament territory. The Liberal Democrats, however, are being squeezed out of the news cycle. If the Tories aren't getting their decimal places wrong whilst travelling first class the Prime Minister is being labelled a bully. Even UKIP have managed to make more of a noise in the past week than Nick Clegg's party, although not all publicity is good publicity!

The Lib Dems have struggled to break through 20% in the polls this year but considering their numbers under Sir Menzies Campbell the high teens is a vast improvement. The UK Polling Report's rolling average puts the third party on 19% which is 4% down on their 2005 result. 23% of the vote represented their best General Election performance for over twenty years and was certainly helped by the party's stance on the Iraq War and Tuition Fees. Without a similar cause célèbre this year it could be assumed that Clegg will struggle to match Charles Kennedy's result five years ago. But as this shows the Liberal Democrats are actually polling similar numbers now than they were in February 2005. When the real campaign starts the MSM will have to give all parties air time and when this happens I expect to see the Lib Dems rise in the polls.

The Liberal Democrats have also demonstrated an increasing ability to concentrate their vote in target seats to get the most out of an electoral system which is bias against them. In 1983 the Liberal/SDP Alliance polled 25.4% but that only translated into 23 seats (or 3.5%). In 2005 Kennedy led a Parliamentary party of 62 members despite gaining 2% less of the vote than the Alliance 22 years earlier. It's this trend that leads Lib Dem members to be quietly confident of holding their numbers this year, which will be no small feat considering the amount of seats they are defending against a resurgent Conservative party.

But there is one piece of bad polling news for the Liberal Democrats. This Angus Reid poll of marginal constituencies shows a larger LD>CON swing in seats held by the Lib Dems than the national swing. Taking the UKPR average the national swing is 4.5% but in the marginals this rises to 5.5%. Although this is not good news for Nick Clegg's party it could be worse. This polling result could be down to their lack of media coverage as opposed to a widespread desire for a Tory majority secured by voting for them in LD/CON marginals. It could even be down to margin of error.

Furthermore, if we look at the seats in Cornwall and Devon (and East Devon) on a universal 4.5% swing the Conservatives would pick up St. Austell & Newquay and Torbay. At 5.5% only Newton Abbot is added to that list with North Devon teetering on the edge. Of Course politics isn't that simple! St. Austell & Newquay's notional majority is not clear cut and I'd say if the Conservatives pick up only one Cornish seat it's more likely to be the more rural Cornwall South East (on a 6.6% swing). Also, no matter what majority Richard Ross-Younger is defending in Newton Abbot his expenses woes are far more likely to end is Parliamentary career than an extra percent on the swing from his party. Essentially the Lib Dems need to concentrate on continuing their local efforts, which will be a far greater factor in their victories than national swings. But I'm sure they know that anyway!


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